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Dublin: 10°C Sunday 9 May 2021

Ardie Savea on Jonah Lomu: 'I believe he changed the game of rugby'

A year on from Lomu’s death, Savea paid tribute to one of his heros.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

ARDIE SAVEA WAS still in primary school when he first crossed paths with New Zealand great Jonah Lomu.

These days Savea is a 6ft 3, 16 stone monster, but back then he was a timid youngster who looked up to Lomu – like just about every other kid in New Zealand.

“I met him once,” recalls Savea. “He came to my primary school. I was one of those shy kids, I kinda stood away, but have got a good look at him. So I didn’t actually meet him.”

As if the All-Blacks didn’t have enough motivation heading into this evening’s game at the Aviva. Yesterday marked a year since Lomu’s death, as the world lost one of the all-time greats at the age of 40.

AIG All Blacks Heroes Event Ardie Savea was in Dublin coaching 80 kids from inner city Dublin as part of the AIG Heroes initiative. Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

Lomu was big hero to Ardie and his older brother Julian, who starts on the wing against Ireland.

“He was massive,” he continues. “I believe he changed the game of rugby. You know he was the guy who, when as a kid if the game was on at three o’clock in the morning, you would get up and watch him play.

“He was that guy that every kid looked up to, myself, my brother, would go to the Westpac stadium just to see him, to watch him play.

“We looked up to Jonah. Obviously when you are kids you just play around in the back yard. I think growing up me and him looked up to Joe Rokocoko and Ma’a Nonu.

“Those two were kind of our main guys that we looked up to but Jonah was a bit special too at the top too because of the way that he was built, at a young age he ended up bigger than everyone else.”

Savea’s first cap for the All-Blacks only arrived last June against, but the dynamic 22-year-old has made quite the impression since.

Up until that stunning loss to Ireland in Chicago, the Hurricanes flanker had never experienced defeat with the New Zealand senior side.

He enjoyed three wins over Australia, and two against each of Wales, Argentina and South Africa before Joe Schmidt’s men eventually ended an 18-game unbeaten run.

“Losing’s not a feeling that you want to experience but that one hurt because we didn’t turn up, we didn’t play to our potential in Chicago.

“That was down to Ireland coming out and dominating us in all areas of park in Chicago. Hopefully we can go out this weekend and put on a good performance.

“For me, personally, it was one of the biggest learnings of my career. I got chucked into No 6 then went to winger and then to first-five (first-centre) that usually doesn’t happen, just on rare occasions. For me it was  big learning (experience).”

Were the All-Blacks distracted by the celebrations in Chicago after the Cubs won the World Series?

“Look, it might have, it might have not, I can’t really say, but for us, basically you train and then after training you get to relax and switch off from rugby.

“I guess at that time the whole Cubs thing was happening and we got into that. I’m not too sure how it affected us or not, but hopefully it doesn’t happen.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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